A visit to the barber’s shop or hairdressing salon in Indonesia could entail far more than a shave or a trim - a lesson in HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it.
The French-based international company L’Oréal, with the support of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in December 2007 established a programme to encourage Indonesian hairdressers to discuss HIV/AIDS awareness with their clients.
The L’Oréal campaign -“Hairdressers of the world against AIDS”- was launched in May 2005 in South Africa and has been going in 15 countries, including India, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the UK and Brazil. UNESCO has provided educational materials for the awareness training seminars.
“There are 8.5 million hairdressers who work closely with at least two billion clients worldwide,” Arifaldi Dasril, brand public relations officer for L’Oréal Indonesia, told IRIN. “So hairdressers are indeed a very effective way to help a campaign in raising awareness.”
HIV has infected at least 33 million people worldwide, according to UNAIDS, with 95 percent in developing countries, including Indonesia and other Asian countries.
According to the Indonesian health ministry, up to September 2007 there were at least 17,000 people infected with HIV in Indonesia’s 33 provinces.
“We all know the data is the tip of the iceberg,” said Sarsanto W Sarwono, a gynaecologist and secretary-general of the Indonesian AIDS foundation (YAIDS), an NGO based in the capital, Jakarta.
“We estimate at least 200,000 people - more than 50 percent of whom belong to the 20 to 29 year-old age group - are infected with HIV in this country,” he said on 11 April, in an awareness training session for hairdressers in Jakarta. He also said infections are increasingly spread through the sharing of needles by drug users.
The seminar provided basic knowledge on HIV/AIDS infection and prevention, while specialists shared the latest information and data about the syndrome and how hairdressers could best introduce the subject to their clients.
The big taboo
“I am glad that Indonesia has now joined in the programme,” Dasril told IRIN. “We went on a roadshow in five major cities in Indonesia and hopefully will be able to attract at least 700 hairdressers to participate in the programme.”
However, there have been hurdles. “We had to struggle in the beginning,” said Dasril. “Many hairdressers said they didn’t want their workplace to be associated with HIV/AIDS, since in Indonesia talking about HIV is still a big taboo.” He said it has also been difficult to get local governments to support the initiative.
“It is not an easy task to introduce a programme like the hairdressers’ initiative and to curb HIV/AIDS in Indonesia, because we have to fight the taboos, and risk negative stigma to even spread awareness about HIV,” Sarwono said.
“However, I am optimistic that this hairdressers’ programme will help in preventing HIV/AIDS, because, indeed, they are dealing with so many clients in their profession,” he said.
The initiative has a budget of up to 700 millions Rupiah (US$77,000).
Darwin Purba, 31, who has been in the trade for seven years, told IRIN: “I think it is a very important project … now I realise we hairdressers as a group have the chance to contribute in spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS. I don’t mind being a campaigner; it’s a moral obligation we have to fulfil.”
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